After Dillon Gee, the abyss
We have now seen the pitching depth of the New York Mets, and it's not an happy picture.
Sunday's rainout meant the Mets faced a Monday doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants, and with it, a wrinkle in their typical five-man rotation of Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee. The two games in one day meant they needed an extra starter.
As presently constructed, that sixth starter is long man Miguel Batista. He got the call in Game 1, and it didn't go well. He didn't pitch out of the fourth inning, allowed seven hits and six runs, three walks and struck out just two.
This was not an aberration for Batista. On the season, he's actually walked more than a batter per inning over 8 2/3 innings, with an E.R.A. of 6.23. That is up significantly from last season's 3.60, but even that number was probably a bit flattering—he walked more batters than he struck out last year over 60 innings. Now 41, it isn't clear whether Batista is still a viable major-league pitcher. And he's the first line of defense in case of a pitching injury, or a doubleheader, or anything that disturbs the starting five.
Shortly after Santana exited, Jeremy Hefner, newly recalled from Triple-A Buffalo, made his major-league debut. At the moment, he is starter number seven in the organization's pecking order, or at least, was close enough and had a fresh arm. Hefner pitched three scoreless innings in relief. A star is born, right?
Well. Hefner is 26 years old, and signed with the Mets this winter as a minor-league free agent. The reason he was so available, and hadn't pitched in the major leagues, was simple: He gets hit a lot.
Notice that in his three scoreless innings Monday, he didn't strike anyone out. This conforms to his recent minor-league performance as well. Hefner had a 1.96 E.R.A. over three starts for Buffalo, but had been striking out a paltry 4.4 per nine innings, which is below the Pelfrey Line. He struck out 6.9 per nine last year for Triple-A Tucson, pitching to a pedestrian 4.98 E.R.A. Expecting any significant contribution from Hefner, should he be needed, is optimistic in the extreme.
New York's other Triple-A starters are the similarly hittable Chris Schwinden, who spent some time in New York last year, and Garrett Olson, who has bounced around at the fringes of various organizations. Top prospects Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey don't appear to be ready yet, sporting E.R.A.s of 5.30 and 6.63, respectively, along with some terrible walk rates.
So it isn't any wonder that the Mets caused a panic on early Tuesday morning, when their Twitter account inaccurately listed Dickey, not Santana, as Tuesday night's starter. The Mets confirmed that this was an error; the errant post as since been deleted.
But the next time a starter has to miss time—and in baseball, that happens all the time—the fans will be right to flinch.